Sorin’s death in 1893 brought to an end the founding era, but not the tradition of visionary leadership. Father John A. Zahm, C.S.C., a brilliant scholar who later accompanied former President Theodore Roosevelt on a South American expedition, became the builder of the science departments at Notre Dame and inspired the University's first flowerings in research. Zahm’s brother, Albert, was among the earliest and most influential pioneers of the aerodynamics of flying machines, and professor Jerome Green achieved the nation's first wireless transmission at Notre Dame.
Later, Father Julius A. Nieuwland, C.S.C., a beneficiary of the advanced education encouraged by Father Zahm, earned lasting fame as the discoverer of the formulae for synthetic rubber.
Father James A. Burns, C.S.C., Notre Dame's great theorist of education, revolutionized the University in the 1920s. In eliminating the preparatory school and dramatically upgrading the Law School, in establishing the University's first meager endowment and a board of lay advisors to oversee it, Burns made it clear that Notre Dame was committed to nothing less than preeminence in American Catholic higher education.
Beginning in the 1930s the University was strengthened by an influx of distinguished European scholars fleeing the Nazis, and, drawing on their expertise, Father (later Cardinal) John A. O'Hara, C.S.C., significantly expanded the graduate school to include programs in biology, physics, philosophy and mathematics.
Notre Dame's dramatic post-World War II flowering began under Father John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., who raised entrance requirements, increased faculty hiring and established the Notre Dame Foundation to expand the University's development capabilities.
The explosive growth of the University - both in size and in stature - gained national prominence during the 35-year tenure of Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who himself became an internationally known figure for his work in education, the Church, human rights and world affairs. The Hesburgh era saw Notre Dame's enrollment, faculty and degrees awarded all double; its library volumes increase five-fold; its endowment rise from less than $10 million to more than $400 million; its physical facilities grow from 48 to 88 buildings; its faculty compensation increase ten-fold and its research funding, more than twenty-fold. Two defining moments in Notre Dame's history occurred at Father Hesburgh’s direction: the transference of governance in 1967 from the Congregation of Holy Cross to a predominantly lay board of trustees and the admission of women to undergraduate studies in 1972.
Under the leadership of Father Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., from 1987 to 2005, the University continued to grow in stature. Endowed faculty positions now number more than 200, the student body has become one of the 20 most selective in the nation (some 71 percent of entering freshmen rank among the top five percent of students in their high school graduating classes), and the endowment, at $5.5 billion, is among the top 20 in American higher education.
Also during the Malloy years, Notre Dame's minority student population nearly tripled, the presence of women at all levels in the University — students, faculty, staff and officers — expanded significantly, and a major effort in international outreach began.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., became the University’s 17th president July 1, 2005. His presidency to date has focused on enhancing the University’s research activity while maintaining excellence in undergraduate education and serving the Catholic Church.
“Promoting truly great teaching and scholarship while preserving and enhancing our Catholic character are my top priorities as president of Notre Dame,” he said. “The University’s tradition of excellence in research and commitment to address the complex issues facing society – guided by our faith and desire to remain true to our Catholic heritage – spurs us to think, speak and act in ways that will guide, inspire and heal … not just for our students and fellow followers of the Catholic faith, but for all of our neighbors in the nation and around the world.”
A professor of philosophy and member of Notre Dame’s faculty since 1990, Father Jenkins had served from July 2000 until his election as president as a vice president and associate provost at the University.